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Beyond Columbine

School Violence and the Virtual


Julie A. Webber


School violence has become our new American horror story, but it also has its roots in the way it comments on western values with respect to violence, shame, mental illness, suicide, humanity, and the virtual. Beyond Columbine: School Violence and the Virtual offers a series of readings of school shooting episodes in the United States as well as similar cases in Finland, Germany, and Norway, among others and their relatedness.

The book expands the author’s central premise from her earlier book Failure to Hold, which explores the hidden curriculum of American culture that is rooted in perceived inequality and the shame, rage, and violence that it provokes. In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of thought (non-cognitive) in action that is engendered by digital media and virtual culture. The present interpretation of the virtual is not limited to video games but encompasses the entire perceptual field of information sharing and media stylization (e.g., social networking, television, and branding). More specifically, American culture has immersed itself so thoroughly in a digital world that its violence and responses to violence lack reflection to the point where it confuses data with certainty. School-related violence is presented as a dramatic series of events with Columbine as its pilot episode.

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Chapter 3: Passage à l’acte: New Thoughts on Civility


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“When NATO drops bombs on Libya or other locations they calculate less than 10% civilian casualties … that was my aim too.”

—Breivik qtd. in Siddique (2013)

It is as though America as a whole had espoused this sect-like destiny: the immediate concretization of all perspectives of salvation. If America were to lose this moral perspective on itself, it would collapse. This is not perhaps evident to Europeans, for whom America is a cynical power and its morality a hypocritical ideology. We remain unconvinced by the moral visions Americans have of themselves, but in this we are wrong. When they ask with seriousness why other peoples detest them, we would be wrong to smile, for it is this same self-examination which makes possible both the various ‘Watergates” and the unrelenting exposure of corruption and their own society’s faults in the cinema and the media, a freedom we might envy them, we who are the truly hypocritical societies, keeping our individual and public affairs concealed beneath the bourgeois affectations of secrecy and respectability.

—Baudrillard (1988, 91)

In spring 2003, while researching this book, I read a cover exposé in the New York Times on international “behavior modification” schools where U.S. parents can send their teens to learn about “compliance” to authority structures, parental supervision, and family values. Loaded terms, especially in the U.S., but one of the major motivational factors in sending troubled teens away is to keep the “family together...

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